Title: Neo Tokyo (1987)
Directors: Rintaro, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Katsuhiro Otomo
I’ve been doing some catching up with old anime movies I haven’t seen, because let’s face it, there’s so much cool stuff out there to see that sometimes movies just slip through the cracks. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, boom, there’s universes within universes to explore. Case in point: Japanese animation. As I mentioned on my review for Robot Carnival (1987), Japanese animators love to do anthology films because it gives them a chance to expose their talent to the world. I’ve come to really enjoy a lot of these Japanese animation anthologies…here’s another one I think you guys will dig. It’s called Neo Tokyo (1987) and it includes the work of some truly awesome animators! Let’s see, first we have Rintaro, the director behind The Dagger of Kamui (1985), Metropolis (2001) and X (1996). He directed the segment entitled ‘Labyrinth, Labyrinthos’. Yoshiaki Kawajiri the director behind Ninja Scroll (1993), Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000), Highlander: The Search for Vengeance (2007) and The Animatrix (2003) directed the short entitled ‘The Running Man’. And finally we have anime legend Katsuhiro Otomo, the mastermind behind Akira (1988), Steamboy (2004) and one of the shorts on Robot Carnival (1987). He directed the short entitled ‘Construction Cancellation Order’. So we have three masters of Japanese Animation working on this anthology, how did it turn out?
Wowzers is all I can say about this one. I mean, considering this was released the same year as Robot Carnival, the animation on Neo Tokyo is far superior in my book. I don’t know what it is; it just looks better, more modern somehow. Robot Carnival, though released on the same year, had an old school feel to it, even though it was about robots. I guess it just shows what a unique touch a director can give to their films. Without that vision, that idea, that feeling that a director wants to convey, a movie just isn’t the same. If you have an uninspired director behind the camera, then the film will be equally uninspiring. Which was not the case with Neo Tokyo, it’s quite evident from the first frames that we have a skilled and talented group of directors gathered for this anthology, each with their unique and voice.
First up we have the short entitled ‘The Running Man’ which is just an amazing short. It grabbed me from the first images and didn’t let me go. The control over sight and sound is so superior here…I mean, the visuals go so well with the sound, they create an otherworldly landscape of nightmares, and futuristic speed racing. Imagine mixing the world of Blade Runner (1982), with its neon lights and dark city landscapes and mix it with the podracing scenes from The Phantom Menace (1999) and you’ll get an idea of what to expect. Now mix in some ghosts…and you have your first ghost filled speed racing movie, with mind meld included in there for good measure. First off, stylistically speaking, this short is mind blowingly cool. The visuals will capture you, I mean, these race cars are so freaking cool looking! I want to drive one of these things! Second, it’s so much like Blade Runner, right down to having a detective investigating the whole thing. And a short film that appears to exist within Blade Runner is cool for me any day of the week. And third, it’s bat shit insane. I mean, what the hell? I had to watch this one a couple of times to fully understand it, but from what I could grasp, it was about this dude who controls the driver of a racing car with the power of his mind? The ghosts figure into the story somehow? Freaking crazy! Still, this is exactly what I enjoyed so much about the shorts presented on Neo Tokyo, they challenge your mind. And speaking of mind bending stories…
Then we get Rintaro’s collaboration to this anthology, a story entitled ‘Labyrinth, Labyrinthos’ a.k.a. ‘The Labyrinth Story’. And here’s where this anthology dives deeply into the surreal and dreamlike. So far, this is the most surreal anime short film I’ve seen. It is as if we were watching everything from the point of view of a child. We follow the child as he is playing inside his house….things are show from such strange angles that they seem different. It reminded of feelings I had when I was a child. You know how when you are a child, simple things can seem scary? This short harkens back to that, to when a childs imagination could transport him to a whole other world entirely. Mirrors are suddenly doors that can take us to another dimension filled with images that seem to make sense, yet they do at the same time when we look at the in a symbolic sort of way. You see all these crazy images which end up making sense when compared to your wildest craziest dreams. Feels like being a kid and seeing the world through eyes that get frightened easily. This short just blew me away as well. To me it felt like I was watching the film of a very distinctive filmmaker, one with a clear vision of what he wanted to convey; that weird, frightening, yet wonderful way in which a child looks at the world. This short was so amazing…obviously a master filmmaker at work here. One of the best things I can say about it is that it was an exercise in atmosphere, some scenes are spooky, they seem to come out of an old fashioned horror film. This short was one of the highlights of the anthology.
Finally, we move on to Katushiro Otomo’s ‘Construction Cancellation Order‘ which is all about this representative of an important development company who due to a change in government is now responsible for overseeing the cancellation of a construction project. The cancellation of this Project 444 presents its own set of challenges. First off, this development company was building a huge city in the middle of a dense jungle, so we have a futuristic city in ruins, being overtaken by nature. Second, the whole project was being constructed entirely by robots, with one robot overseeing everything. The problem is that the robots won’t stop working, since that’s all they were programmed to do and their one human supervisor has gone missing, they won’t follow any other order! So it becomes this gargantuan task to stop them. Again, same as in Robot Carnival (1987) the theme of man vs. machine pops up, but who will win? To me this short is amazing because of its design. You can see glimpses of the complex city designs that Otomo later uses in Akira (1988), also, it ends similar to Akira’s because it has its protagonist going up against a gigantic tentacled creature. While I enjoyed this short, I was disappointed with its ending, which feels unfinished. Just when you think you’re going to see this whole Man vs. Machine theme taken to its limits, poof, it’s fade to black and the short ends. What happened here? Did they purposely leave the audience hanging, or did something happen behind the scenes of the making of this short that didn’t allow them to follow through to the end? Whatever the case, the short is still amazing, and well worth watching. But if you ask me, the other two shorts are superior.
After, Construction Cancellation Order, the anthology closes by going back to Rintaro’s Labyrinth Labyrintho’s and its back to surreal territory with the child still living out one of his horrible nightmares which involves circus clowns and black slimy monsters surrounding the child and his fat cat. But no worries, somehow, it all ends on a happy note and same as Robot Carnival, the short ends in a parade of fireworks, clowns and music, which brought to mind the final scenes in Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963), which ends in a similar fashion. When the film ends, it feels like those last minutes in a circus, where all the characters from the circus reappear to say goodbye to us. The film dazzled and amazed us and it is now ending with some eye candy so you can leave happy. I know I did! Though this anthology film is short in running time (only 50 minutes long) its amazing every step of the way and well worth including in your anime/animation collection.